Orders of the Day — Traffic Congestion (Large Cities)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th May 1959.

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Photo of Mr Albert Hunter Mr Albert Hunter , Feltham 12:00 am, 7th May 1959

I am glad to have the opportunity of taking part in this debate. We have listened to two very thoughtful and interesting speeches from my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) and the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation. Both have given great thought to this question, and I am quite certain that both their speeches were of vital interest to the House.

This is not a party matter, but a national question. Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee are interested in obtaining proper roads for Britain, and, therefore, I am quite sure that the debate will be conducted in that spirit today. I have only a lay knowledge of new road and traffic problems, but I am pleased to have the opportunity of making some observations to the Committee from that point of view. The towns and cities of Britain as we know them today were largely built before motor transport existed. They have developed over the centuries, but were first constructed mainly for horse-drawn traffic. It is in this, the twentieth, century that this problem has become so acute.

In the post-war years, there has been a tremendous increase in transport and in all types of vehicles—industrial lorries, private cars, coaches, public transport and other types of cars used on the roads, and this development is likely to increase in the years ahead. Therefore, it is vital that Parliament should pay immediate attention to the problem.

I feel that there are three aspects of the traffic problem which need to be considered. First, there is the construction of new roads, with road safety measures for all users of the roads. The question of making the roads safe is vital not only for the pedestrian, but also for the motor driver himself. I think that my right hon. Friend criticised the slogan to be displayed on placards on the roads, "Be a Good Driver". I would suggest to him that it should be "Be a Safe Driver". I think that that would be a very good slogan indeed. Secondly, there is the application of traffic engineering techniques to ensure that the maximum use is made of the existing pattern of roads and streets; and, thirdly, there is the provision of parking facilities off the highway.

The construction of new roads in the central areas of large cities is urgent, especially in large shopping areas. We need to construct these roads with pedestrian subways so that the persons can cross the streets in safety. To lessen congestion in the busy shopping and trading areas and during peak hours relief roads should be provided. Not only do we want the new roads in the centres of the cities with pedestrian subways. but also relief roads which would help to lighten the traffic in the busy periods.

Outstanding examples of planned schemes to deal with the traffic problem are now being carried out in Birmingham and Coventry. The new shopping centre in Coventry shows the results which can be achieved by a modern approach to the problem. Coventry's pedestrian shopping centre with provision outside for the parking of motor cars is well worth seeing, and I think that it would be well worth the while of other local authorities to take a look at the work now going on in those two cities. Both these cities are providing parking schemes.

In the construction of new roads or of any new construction in the big cities I think that parking space for cars must be provided near the shopping centres. London is probably the greatest problem that the road experts will have to tackle. More road construction schemes are urgently needed not only in London, but also in the greater London urban areas. True, we have the Hyde Park scheme, with four lines of traffic in the underpass, the Chiswick flyover and the Hammersmith flyover, and in my own constituency we have the widening of the Bath Road and other improvements. There are also the three pedestrian subways which the Minister is going to give to the people of Cranford. But despite all that has been and is being done there is more that needs to be done in the Greater London and Middlesex areas.

In Feltham, we need a new shopping area as well as the long-needed new high street. As a result of the increase in the population since 1945 these arc urgent problems. We should bear in mind that we are now in the fifteenth year of the post-war period. The population in the greater London urban areas has grown and should now be given not only new high streets, but good shopping facilities. I hope also, that the Minister will pay attention to the urban areas' needs in the greater London and Middlesex areas.

I also wish to refer to new roads under construction. I know that this is a difficult problem and, as the Minister explained, some people's rights have to be considered in the matter of rehousing. I have received complaints from constituents about the slow rate at which the work is proceeding. I have received corn-plaints about the Bath Road, the Cromwell Road extension and also about the Chiswick flyover. If the Minister can speed up these schemes I am sure that it will be appreciated not only by the people living in the areas, but also by the road users.

Finally, I trust that the Government will press on with the three aspects of road improvement which I have mentioned. The first is the construction of new roads with safety measures for all road users. On many occasions in the House I have spoken of the appalling number of road casualties. I believe that nearly 6,000 people were killed on the roads last year and well over 200,000 injured. Such a situation is a tragic blight on our civilisation. Therefore, I very much hope that the Minister's schemes will pay very great attention to the needs of the people who use the roads for their every day affairs of life. There should be pedestrian subways and crossings with traffic control lights.

The other two aspects I mentioned were the application of traffic engineering techniques to ensure that maximum use is made of our present roads, and the provision of parking facilities off the highways. The Minister stated that the Government are pushing ahead with these road schemes. I believe that public opinion is now convinced of the urgent necessity for this road construction in our cities and urban areas. The News Chronicle published a Gallup poll some weeks ago. The question was: If the Chancellor of the Exchequer had £50 million to spend, how should he spend it? Old-age pensions came first and new roads came second. That shows that public opinion is strongly in favour of new roads and other measures to deal with traffic congestion.

I trust that this debate will convince the right hon. Gentleman of the urgent need for new road construction to reduce traffic hold ups and delays in our cities and urban areas and to make the highways safe for the pedestrian and motorist.